Shared mealtime is not just a traditional family ritual, but is also beneficial for many mental and physical aspects of health. According to research from Rutgers University, an average American family spends about 40% of their budget on eating out. Here are three great reasons to make family mealtime a priority:
Decreased probability of weight problems later in life. Children in families who frequently share meals tend to have a lower body mass index than those who did not share meals—this is according to research from Rutgers that reviewed a multitude of studies measuring the frequency and atmosphere of shared meals compared to children’s risk of weight gain. Family meals are associated with increased consumption of fruit and vegetables while also associated with less consumption of fried foods, soft drinks, and other less healthy food options. The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states that a child may be 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12% less likely to be overweight by sharing mealtimes.
Increased emotional well-being. The American Dietetic Association finds that family meals give structure to a child’s day and increase a child’s sense of security. In addition, they promote communication and family cohesion and make a positive impact on a child’s literary development and emotional well-being. A study by the University of Minnesota found that the frequency of family meals is actually a protective factor that may curtail high-risk behaviors among youth by easing everyday stress.
Greater academic achievement. Sharing family meals leads to improved vocabulary and reading skills in children, improved test scores, and decreased probability in taking drugs. The conversations had during family meal time improves a child’s vocabulary and conversational skills. As a result, test scores are improved in these children as well. According to a study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, teens who eat dinner with their family at most twice a week were four times more likely to smoke cigarettes than those who participated in family meals more frequently.
And eating together can and should be fun! Try these ideas as a family that your kids may love:
Two-Ingredient Pancakes with Creamy Berry Topping
Blend together 1 egg and 1 banana. Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, or even ground flaxseed into the mix for extra flavor and nutrition. Cook in cooking spray on a pan until golden brown. For topping, mix 0% Greek yogurt with mashed blueberries and raspberries or powdered peanut butter.
In a muffin tin, crack an egg into each spot. Add mix-ins like diced tomatoes, onions, spinach, mushrooms, fresh herbs, goat cheese! These can be refrigerated for breakfast the next day.
Zucchini Noodles with Chicken or Tofu Kebabs
Use a spiralizer or veggie peeler to make “noodles” from a zucchini and boil for a few minutes. Top with tomato sauce and grilled kebabs made with tofu or chicken cubes, cubed bell pepper, onion, cherry tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon.
Have your kids layer these up! They will have fun adding their choice of healthy mix-ins.
6 oz 0% Fage Greek yogurt or fat-free Siggi’s
1/2 cup blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, bananas, etc.
1 T ground flaxseed
1 T slivered almonds or pistachios
Cinnamon, to taste
Peanut Butter Banana Rolls
1 whole wheat or brown rice tortilla topped with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and 1 sliced banana. Roll up and cut into sushi-roll pieces.
Chia Seed Pudding
1 cup skim, coconut or almond milk + 1/3 cup chia seeds, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/4 cup berries. Let sit overnight! Optional add ins: Cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, nuts, coconut. Get creative and have fun with this!
Research suggests that children who take part in family meals eat healthier foods, have less delinquency, greater academic achievement, and improved mental well-being. However, the benefits vary based on the frequency of family meal times. The most positive health benefits for children can be seen from three or more days of shared family meals per week.
This research also states that the quality of family interactions is even more important than just the shared time together. For example, families who ate together while watching TV did not have the same improved dietary intakes as families who ate together at home and conversed.
Maria A. Bella, MS, RD, CDN is a 70 lb. weight loss success story who runs, lifts, and eats great food. She is a clinical Nutrition Coordinator at the Center for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Maria completed her Masters in Clinical Nutrition at New York University and her Dietetic Residency at NYU Langone Medical Center.